Spice Alley, Chippendale

Sydney’s nightlife has suffered dreadful and high profile setbacks after the lockout laws came into play, but the NSW government and councils are now pulling out all stops to revive it. Integral to this campaign is reorienting the night time economy so that it’s about more than just drinking and nightclubbing.

Cities have much to benefit from a vibrant night time economy, according to Urbis director Dianne Knott. Not only is the NTE a major contributor to the state’s economy, there’s also the safety aspect with more “eyes on the street” as well as “lots of place-making benefits”, including a sense of pride in your community.

Urbis has been involved in a number of night time economy activation projects, including in Penrith and the Blue Mountains. Its opinion as “city shapers” is that night time precincts need to be dispersed throughout cities and regions, and offer variety.

Dianne Knott

“Our view as city shapers and economists is that a NTE that is dispersed across cities makes it a strong city. It’s about attracting people to an arrival experience and keeping them there,” Knott told The Fifth Estate.

“If everyone is sucked out to somewhere else then that location misses out on the vibrancy, economic and safety benefits, it’s a vicious cycle.” 

Live music in Wollongong

Councils are working hard to activate their night time economies and make it easier for new entrants with good ideas. In Wollongong, for example, there’s a strong live music scene and the council is actively encouraging people to hold events by assigning case managers to applicants, Knott says.

Each applicant then has a single point of contact to help them through each stage of the planning and approvals process.

Parramatta looks to activate industrial buildings at night

Councils are also thinking outside the box to bring their communities to life at night. Paramatta “effectively shuts own after dark”, according to Knott, so the council is targeting commercial office space and foyers as places to activate with “preferably non-alcoholic uses” such as performances and cafes. 

Variety and choice in the night time economy is key. Knott is particularly fond of the City of Sydney’s goal to have 40 per cent of people over 40 engaging in the night time economy by 2030. 

With some thoughtful planning and governance, noisier venues and events such as live music can also be accommodated. Committee of Sydney’s director of advocacy James Hulme touched on this issue in The Fifth Estate last year and suggested dedicated “music zones” for grassroots music activity.

Also in 2018, Greater Sydney Commission chief executive officer Sarah Hill made the case for using industrial land facilities – “big sheds” – for creative and artistic enterprises.

State government also championing change in the night time economy

Urbis recently worked with the NSW planning and environment on a new guide that helps aspiring entrants to the night time economy navigate the development approvals process.

Daytime businesses opening at night

Knott says the guide is primarily pitched at daytime businesses looking to open at night and entrepreneurs with a “great idea” for a night time business. 

“It’s about late night bookstores, pop up markets, live music – not just pubs and clubs operating until late, the goal is to create more choice for people.”

One example she mentioned was a group that wanted to run night time theatre events in a hair salon.

She says the guide is “really clear” on what entrants to the night time economy must consider regarding traffic, amenity and other community impacts before they even “put pen to paper” on a planning application.

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  1. Hi I am living in Asia, and night time markets bring people out to socialise and are so vibrant. They also offer places for music and performance and are family friendly.
    I would suggest all areas of Sydney start thinking of night time markets to reactive the night life. Farmers markets are very popular on weekends but it is often hard for families to get there because of sport and other commitments from two parents working. NIght markets would help to bring families to socialise as well as older people and younger people – especially if music was involved.